Summary Against Modern Thought: Errors About The Incarnation VII

Summary Against Modern Thought: Errors About The Incarnation VII

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Week 7 refuting arguments claiming Jesus was not the Word Incarnated. This, dear readers, is not as easy week. Take it in parts.


1 From the things set down, therefore, it appears that Christ was not without divine nature, as Ebion, Cerinthus, and Photinus said; nor without a true human body, as in the error of Mani and Valentine; nor without a human soul, as Arius and Apollinaris held. Since, then, these three substances met in Christ—namely, divinity, the human soul, and the true human body—what one should think about their union following the Scriptural teachings remains for inquiry.

2 Now, then, Theodore of Mopsueste and Nestorius, his follower, offered one sort of opinion on the aforesaid union. They said that the human soul and the true human body came together in Christ by a natural union to constitute one man of the same species and nature with other men, and that in this man God dwelt as in His temple, namely, by grace, just as in other holy men.

Hence, it says in John (2:19, 21), that He said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”; and later the Evangelist by way of exposition adds: “But he spoke of the temple of His body”; and the Apostle says: “In Him it has well pleased the Father, that all fullness should dwell” (Col. 1:19). And out of these arose further a certain affective union between that man and God, when that man cleaved to God with his own good will, and God lifted up that man with His will, in the words of John (8:29): “He that sent me is with me, and He has not left me alone: for I do always the things that please Him.” Let one thus understand that the union of that man to God is such as was the union of which the Apostle said: “He who is joined to God is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17).

And just as, from the latter union, names which properly befit God are transferred to men so that they are called “gods,” and “sons of God,” and “lords,” and “holy ones,” and “christs”, as is clear from a diversity of places in Scripture; so also the divine names befit that man so that, by reason of God’s indwelling and the affective union, he is called God, and the Son of God, and Holy, and Christ. Nonetheless, because there was in that man a greater fullness of grace than in other holy men, he was before all the rest the temple of God, he was united to God, more closely in affection, and it was by a singular kind of privilege that he shared the divine names. And because of this outstanding grace he was established in a share of the divine dignity and honor; namely, that he be co-adored with God. So, then, consequently on the things just said there must be one Person of the Word of God, and another person of that man who is co-adored with the Word of God. And if one Person of each of the two be mentioned, this will be by reason of the affective union aforesaid; so that man and the Word of God may be called one Person, as is said of man and woman that “now they are not two, but one flesh” (Mat. 19:6).

Now, such a union does not bring it about that what is said of the first can be said of the second (for not everything which becomes the man is true of the woman, or conversely); therefore in the union of the Word and that man they think this must be observed: The things proper to that man and pertinent to the human nature cannot be said becomingly of God’s Word, or of God. just so it becomes that man that he was born of a virgin, that he suffered, died, was buried, and this kind of thing; and all of these, they assert, ought not be said of God, or of the Word of God.

But, since there are certain names which, although they are chiefly befitting to God, are nonetheless communicated to men in a fashion—“christ,” for instance, “lord,” “holy,” and even “son of God”—nothing according to them keeps one from the use of such names in predication of the things just mentioned. For, according to them, we say fittingly that Christ, or the “Lord of glory,” or the “Saint of saints,” or “God’s son” was born of a virgin, suffered, died and was buried. Hence, too, the Blessed Virgin must not be named the mother of God, or of the Word of God, but the mother of Christ, they say.

3 But let one earnestly consider the matter and he will see that the position described excludes the truth of the Incarnation. For, in that position, the Word of God was united to that man only through an indwelling by grace, on which a union of wills follows. But the indwelling of God’s Word in a man is not for God’s Word to be made flesh. For the Word of God and God Himself have been dwelling in all the holy men since the world was founded; as the Apostle says: “You are the temple of the living God; as God says: I will dwell in them” (2 Cor. 6: 16).

And this indwelling, for all that, cannot be called incarnation; otherwise, God would have repeatedly been made flesh since the beginning of the world. Nor does it suffice for the notion of incarnation if the Word of God or God dwelt in that man with a fuller grace, for “greater and less do not diversify the species of union.” Since the Christian religion is based on faith in the Incarnation, it is now quite evident that the position described removes the basis of the Christian religion.

4 In addition is the very manner of speech of Scripture, which makes the falsity of the position described plain. For the indwelling of the Word of God in holy men is usually designated by Scripture in these ways: “The Lord spoke to Moses”; “the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah” (or to some other Prophet); “The word of the Lord came to the hand of Haggai the Prophet.” But one never reads the Word of the Lord was made Moses, or Jeremiah, or one of the others. Yet thus uniquely was the union of God’s Word to the flesh of Christ marked by the Evangelist: “The Word was made flesh,” as was explained before. Clearly, then, it was not by indwelling alone that God’s Word was in the man, Christ, if we follow Scripture.

5 Again, whatever was made is what it was made; thus, what was made man is man, and what was made white is white. But God’s Word was made man, as is gathered from the foregoing. So God’s Word is man. It is, of course, impossible when two things differ in person, or hypostasis or supposit that one he predicated of the other, for, when we say “Man is animal,” that which is animal man is. And when we say “Man is white,” the signification is that man himself is white, although whiteness is other than the essence of humanity. Accordingly, there is no way to say Socrates is Plato or anyone of the singulars of his own or another species. So, if “the Word was made flesh,” that is, “man,” as the Evangelist witnesses (John 1:14). it is impossible that there be two persons, or hypostases, or supposits of the Word of God and of that man.

6 Demonstrative pronouns, moreover, refer to the person, or hypostasis, or supposit. For no one says “I run” when another is running, except figuratively, perhaps, when another is running in his place. But the man called Jesus says about Himself: “Before Abraham was made, I am”, and “I and the Father are one” (John 8:59; 10:30), and several other things which clearly pertain to the divinity of the Word. Therefore, the person and hypostasis of the man speaking is plainly the very person of the Word of God.

7 There is more. From our exposition one sees that the body of Christ did not descend from heaven as in Valentine’s error, nor did His soul according to Origen’s. What is left is this: one can say pertinently of the Word of God that He descended, not by some local motion, but by reason of the union to a lower nature. This was said above. But that man, speaking in His own person, says that He descended from heaven in John (6:51): “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” Necessarily, then, the person and hypostasis of that man must be the person of the Word of God.

8 Again, to ascend into heaven plainly belongs to Christ the man who “was raised up while the disciples looked on,” as Acts (1:9) says. But to descend from heaven is proper to the Word of God. But the Apostle says: “He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). The very person and hypostasis of that man is, accordingly, the person and hypostasis of the Word of God.

9 Moreover, that whose origin is in the world, which had no being before the world, does not properly “come into the world.” But the man Christ in the flesh had His origin in the world, since He had a true, human, earthly body, as was shown. In His soul, as well, He had no being before He was in the world, for He had a true human soul in whose nature there is no being before it is united to the body. So, then, it does not belong to that man’s humanity to “come into the world.”

He Himself says, of course, that He came into the world: “I came forth from the Father,” He says, “and I came into the world” (John 16:28). Plainly, then, what belongs to the Word of God is truly said of that man. For, that it belongs to the Word of God to come into the world John the Evangelist clearly shows (1:10-11) : “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not; He came unto His own.” So, the person and hypostasis of the man speaking is the person and hypostasis of the Word of God.

10 Again, the Apostle says: “When He comes into the world He says: Sacrifice and oblation You did not want: but a body You fitted for Me” (Heb. 10:5). But He who enters the world is the Word of God, as was shown. It is, then, to God’s very Word that a body is fitted; namely, so as to be His own body. And one could not say this if the hypostasis of God’s Word were not identified with that of the man. Therefore, the hypostasis of the Word of God and of that man are the very same.

11 Every change or passion, furthermore, proper to ones body can be ascribed to him whose body it is, So, if the body of Peter is wounded, scourged, or dies, it can be said that Peter is wounded, scourged, or dies. But the body of that man is the body of the Word of God, as was just proved. Therefore, every suffering that took place in the body of that man can be ascribed to the Word of God. So it is right to say that the Word of God, and God, suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. And this they used to deny.

12 The Apostle also says: “It became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, who, had brought many children into glory, to perfect the author of their salvation, by His passion” (Heb. 2:10). Thus one holds: He for whom all things are, through whom all things are, He who leads men to glory, and who is the Author of human salvation suffered and died. But these four are God’s in a singular way; they are attributed to no other. For we read in Proverbs (16:4): “The Lord has made all things for Himself”; in John (1:3) of the Word of God: “All things were made by Him”; in the Psalmist: “The Lord will give grace and glory”; and elsewhere: “The salvation of the just is from the Lord” (Ps. 83:12; 36:39). It is, then, plainly right to say that “God, God’s Word, suffered and died.”

13 There is more. Granted someone may be called a lord by sharing in lordship: no man at all, no creature in fact, can be called “Lord of glory,” for God alone by His nature possesses the glory of the future beatitude. But others do so by the gift of grace, and so the Psalmist says: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory” (Ps. 2-3:8-10). But the Apostle says the Lord of glory was crucified (1 Cor. 2:8). Then truly it can be said: God was crucified.

14 The Word of God, furthermore, is called God’s Son by nature, this was made plain above. But a man through the indwelling is called God’s son by the grace of adoption. But in the position now opposed, one must accept in our Lord Jesus Christ each of these modes of sonship, for the indwelling Word is the Son of God by nature; the man in whom He dwells is a son of God by the grace of adoption. Hence, that man cannot be called “the very own” or “only-begotten Son of God”; the Word of God alone in His own proper birth is uniquely begotten of the Father.

But Scripture attributes the passion and death to God’s very own and only-begotten Son, for the Apostle says: “He has spared not even His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32); and John (3:16) says: “God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” And that He spoke of “giving” Him over to death is clear from this: John had previously used the very same words about the crucified Son of Man when he said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in Him” (John 3:14), and the rest. And the Apostle makes the death of Christ an indication of the divine love for the world by saying: “God commends His charity towards us; because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8-9). Rightly, then, does one say that the Word of God, that God, suffered and died.

15 Again, one is said to be the son of a mother because his body is taken from her, although his soul is not taken from her, but has an exterior source. But the body of that man was taken from the Virgin Mother. Now, it was proved that the body of that man is the body of the natural Son of God, that is, of the Word of God. So it becomes us to say that the Blessed Virgin is “the Mother of the Word of God,” and even “of God”. Of course, the divinity of the Word is not taken from His Mother, for a son need not take the whole of his substance from his mother, but his body only.

16 The Apostle says further that “God sent His Son, made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). These words show us how to understand the sending of the Son of God: He is called sent thither, where He was made of a woman. This could not, of course, be true if the Son of God had not been before He was made of a woman, for that which is sent into another is understood to be previously to its being in that other to which it is sent. But that man, the Nestorian adoptive son, had no being before he was born of the woman. The Apostle’s word, “God sent His Son,” cannot, therefore, be understood of the adoptive son, but must be understood of the natural Son, that is, of God the Word of God. But if one is made of a woman, he is called the woman’s son. Therefore, God the Word of God is the Son of a woman.

17 Perhaps we will be told not to understand the word of the Apostle thus: that the Son of God was sent to be made of a woman; but to understand it thus: that God’s Son, made of a woman and under the Law, was sent “that He might redeem them who were under the Law” (Gal. 4:5). And in this reading “his son” need not be understood of the natural Son, but of that man who was the son by adoption. But the very words of the Apostle exclude this meaning. For no one can release from the Law save him who exists above the Law, the author of the Law. But the Law was established by God. Only God, then, can take away servitude to the Law. But the Apostle attributes this to the Son of God of whom he speaks. So, the Son of God of whom he speaks is the natural Son. Therefore, it is true to say: The natural Son of God, that is, God the Word of God, is made of a woman.

18 The very same point is clarified by Scripture’s attribution of the redemption of the human race to God Himself, thus the Psalmist: “You have redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth” (Ps. 30:6).

19 Furthermore, the adoption of God’s sons is made by the Holy Spirit, according to Romans (8:15): “You have received the spirit of adoption of sons.” But the Holy Spirit is a gift, not of man, but of God. And so, the adoption of sons is not caused by man, but by God. But it is caused by the Son of God sent by God and made of a woman. This is clear from the Apostle’s addition: “That we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:5). One ought, then, to understand the Apostle’s expression of God’s natural Son. It is, accordingly, God the Word of God who “was made of a woman”; that is, of the Virgin Mother.

20 And, again, John says: “The Word was made flesh.” But He has no flesh, except from a woman. The Word, then, is made of a woman; that is, of the Virgin Mother. Therefore, the Virgin is the Mother of God the Word.

21 The Apostle further says that Christ is from the father, according to the flesh, Who is over all things, God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5). But he is not from the fathers save through the Virgin. God, then, who is above all things, is from the Virgin in the flesh. The Virgin, then, is the Mother of God in the flesh.

22 The Apostle, once more, says of Christ Jesus that, “being in the form of God, emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7). Now, clearly, if, following Nestorius, we divide Christ into two—into that man who is the adoptive son, and into God’s natural Son who is the Word of God—this text cannot be understood of that man. For that man, if he be pure man, was not first in the form of God, so as to be made later in the likeness of man; rather conversely: the existing man was made to share in divinity; in this he was not emptied, but exalted. The text must, then, be understood of the Word of God who first was eternally in the form of God, that is, in the nature of God, and later emptied Himself, made in the likeness of man.

But that emptying cannot be understood solely by the indwelling of the Word of God in the man Jesus Christ. For, since the beginning of the world, the Word of God has dwelt in all the saints by grace. It is not, for all that, emptied, since God communicates His goodness to creatures so that nothing is subtracted from Him. Rather, He is somehow exalted, in that the goodness of the creatures manifests His sublimity, and so much the more so as the creatures have been better. Hence, if the Word of God has dwelt more fully in the man Christ than in the other saints, then even less in this case than in others is the emptying harmonious with the Word.

Plainly, then, the union of the Word with the human nature must not be understood in accordance merely with the indwelling of the Word of God in that man (as Nestorius held), but in accordance with this fact: The Word of God truly was made man. In this wise only, then, will there be place for “emptying”: namely, let the Word of God be called “emptied,” that is, made small, not by the loss of His own greatness, but by the assumption of human smallness; just so would it be if the soul were to pre-exist the body, and were said to be made the corporeal substance which man is: not by a change of its own nature, but by the assumption of corporeal nature.

23 There is more. Manifestly, the Holy Spirit dwelt in the man Christ, for Luke (4:11) says: “Jesus, being full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan.” If, then, our understanding of the Incarnation of the Word is this alone, the Word of God dwelt most fully in that man, we will have to say that the Holy Spirit was incarnate also. And this is altogether foreign to the teaching of the faith.

24 This is also clear: The Word of God dwells in the holy angels, and by sharing the Word they are filled with understanding. But the Apostle says: “Nowhere doth He take hold of the angels: but of the seed of Abraham he takes hold” (Heb. 2:16). Clearly, then, the assumption of human nature by the Word is not merely to be taken as indwelling.

25 If, furthermore, as in the Nestorian position, Christ be separated into two differing in hypostasis, that is, into the Word of God and that man, the Word of God cannot possibly be called “Christ.” This is clear, for one thing, from Scripture’s manner of speaking: Scripture before the Incarnation never names God, or the Word of God, Christ. It is clear, as well, from the very account of the name. For one says “Christ” only as though to say “anointed.” But one understands anointed with the “oil of gladness” (Heb. 1:9; Ps. 44:8), that is, “with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38), as Peter explains.

Yet, one cannot say that the Word of God is anointed with the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit would thus be greater than the Son, as the sanctifier is greater than the sanctified. It will be necessary, then, to understand the name “Christ” only of that man. Therefore, this word of the Apostle, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5-6), must be referred to that man. Yet he adds: “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with Cod.” Truly, then, one speaks of that man in the form, that is, the nature of God, and equal to God. Yet, granted men are called “gods” or “sons of God” by God’s indwelling, one never calls them “equal to God.” Clearly, then, the man Christ is not called God merely by reason of the indwelling.

26 Granted, again, that the name of God is used for holy men by reason of the indwelling of grace, nonetheless works which are God’s alone—the creation of heaven and earth, for example, or something of the sort, are never ascribed to any saint by reason of the indwelling of grace. But to Christ the man the creation of all things is attributed. We read in Hebrews (3:1-4): “Consider the apostle and high priest of our confession Jesus Christ who is faithful to Him that made Him, as also was Moses in all His house.”

This must be understood of that man and not of God’s Word; both because it was shown that in the Nestorian position God’s Word cannot be called Christ, as well as because God’s Word is not made, but begotten. The Apostle, of course, adds: “This man was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by so much as He that built the house bath greater honor than the house.” Now, the man Christ built the house. This the Apostle proves subsequently when he adds: “For every house is built by some man: but He that created all things is God.” Thus, then, the Apostle proves that the man Christ built the house of God from the fact that God created all things. But this would be no proof at all if Christ were not the God who creates all things. And so to that man the creation of the worlds is ascribed, a thing which is God’s very own work. The man Christ, then, is God Himself by hypostasis and not merely by reason of indwelling.

27 Further, it is clear that the man Christ, speaking of Himself, says many divine and supernatural things: so this in John (6:40): “I will raise him up in the last day”; and again: “I give them life everlasting” (10:28). This would be the height of pride if that man speaking were not by hypostasis Cod Himself, but merely had God indwelling. But pride is not suited to the man Christ, who says of Himself: “Learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart” (Mat. 11:29). There is, then, identity in person between that man and God.

28 There is more. just as we read in Scripture that the man is “exalted”—as in Acts (2:33): “Exalted therefore by the right hand of God,” and the rest, so also we read that God is “emptied” in Philippians (2:7): “He emptied himself,” and the rest. Thus, just as sublime things can be said of that man by reason of the union, that He is God, that He raises the dead, and others of this sort, so of God can lowly things be said: that He was born of the Virgin, suffered, died, and was buried.

29 Then, too, both relative verbs and pronouns bring out identity of supposit. The Apostle says, speaking of the Son of God: “In Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; then, later, he adds: “And He is the head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:16, 18). Now, clearly, the text, “In Him were all things created,” refers to the Word of God; whereas the text, “first-born from the dead,” belongs to the man Christ. Therefore, God’s Word and the man Christ are one supposit and, consequently, one Person; and whatever is said of that man must he said of the Word of God, and conversely.

30 Again, the Apostle says: “There is one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are A things” (1 Cor. 8:6). But Jesus, the name of that man through whom all things are, clearly befits the Word of God. Thus, then, the Word of God and that man are one Lord; and these are not two lords, or two sons, as Nestorius held. From this it follows further that there is one person of the Word of God and the man.

31 Let one consider the matter earnestly and he sees that this Nestorian opinion on the Incarnation differs very little from that of Photinus. For each held that the man was called God only by reason of the indwelling grace. Photinus, of course, said that the man merited the name and glory of divinity by suffering and good works; and Nestorius confessed that from the beginning of his conception he had this name and glory by reason of the fullness of God’s dwelling within him. Of course, on the eternal generation of the Word they differed greatly: Nestorius confessed it, but Photinus denied it completely.

Notes Phew!


  1. Oldavid

    Struth! The more ole Tom tries to explain the Incarnation the less I can comprehend it.

    I can say with confidence because it is necessary that the penalty for sin must be paid by a Man but only God is able to redeem the infinite offence “blessed be Jesus Christ true God and true Man” but I still cannot comprehend the Incarnation.

  2. All I have to do is accept it, whether I can comprehend it or not; yet the Holy Spirit can give me that understanding.

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